Introduction: Dispute Resolution within the Sydney Curriculum

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Teaching Dispute Resolution: A Reflection and Analysis

Hilary Astor & Christine Chinkin*

Introduction: Dispute Resolution within the Sydney Curriculum

In 1989 the authors taught for the first time a final year elective on dispute resolution at Sydney Law School. Although this course had been offered before, the introduction of the semester system and the very different backgrounds of the authors to that of the previous lecturer1 necessitated a reappraisal and reconstruction of the course. This was also required by the constant evolution of dispute resolution processes within Australia in a number of contexts and through a variety of institutions.

In relation to the teaching of dispute resolution, Australian law schools are now at the same point reached by United States law schools in the early 1980s. Dispute resolution is rightly taking its place in academic courses in law, as well as other disciplines, and the number of such courses is beginning to burgeon.2 At present, however, experience of teaching specialist dispute resolution courses in law schools in Australia is limited.

Dispute resolution themes and issues may be integrated in an ad hoc manner into the teaching of other established subjects in the law degree.3 This raises debate whether it is desirable to present dispute resolution as a separate subject to a limited number of students, or whether it could more effectively be integrated into the teaching of mainstream subjects. The integrated, or “mainstreaming” approach helps to avoid marginalisation or “ghettoization”4 and should dispel the perception of dispute resolution as a peripheral option catering for the idiosyncratic interests of those who enjoy what some Sydney students have been heard to call “Mickey Mouse courses”. While mainstreaming avoids the drawbacks of marginalisation, teaching dispute resolution in any substantive context requires instructors to employ different pedagogical techniques and new perspectives on their subjects which may be unfamiliar to them and to which they may feel no commitment. Rewriting an established curriculum to integrate dispute resolution issues would have implications for academic freedom; it may be more easily achieved in a new law school such as that at Bond University where a Faculty commitment to the integration of dispute resolution may be made. Nevertheless we optimistically look forward to the time when dispute resolution perspectives are also included in more compulsory subjects and commercially based courses.

At Sydney a rather fragmented approach is taken. In addition to the dispute resolution option, there is another specialised option on International Dispute Resolution and students are free to enrol for both these courses. Dispute resolution is also included in the compulsory first year Legal Institutions course as well as in options such as Anti- Discrimination Law, Environmental Law and Family Law.

Our objective in this article is to describe and reflect upon what we did in teaching a course which we found intellectually and pedagogically stimulating. We hope that this may be of some assistance to the increasing number of people who are designing courses in and teaching dispute resolution to law students.5 We also hope to stimulate and encourage the exchange of ideas about teaching dispute resolution.6

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